Public Feelings: a collective Project
A key inspiration for this book’s desire to think about depression as a
cultural and social phenomenon rather than a medical disease has been
my collaborative engagement with other scholars under the rubric of
Public Feelings. Begun in 2001 both nationally and at the University of
Texas, our investigation has coincided with and operated in the shadow
of September 11 and its ongoing consequences—a sentimental takeover
of 9/11 to underwrite militarism, war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush’s
reelection, and the list goes on. Rather than analyzing the geopolitical
underpinnings of these developments, we’ve been more interested in
their emotional dynamics. What makes it possible for people to vote for
Bush or to assent to war, and how do these political decisions operate
within the context of daily lives that are pervaded by a combination of
anxiety and numbness? How can we, as intellectuals and activists, ac-
knowledge our own political disappointments and failures in a way that
can be enabling? Where might hope be possible? Those questions stem
from the experience of what one of our cells, Feel Tank Chicago, has
called “political depression,” the sense that customary forms of politi-
cal response, including direct action and critical analysis, are no longer
working either to change the world or to make us feel better.
Our meetings, whether public or among ourselves, are as likely to
start with a mood as an idea; at one of our national gatherings, for ex-
ample, many of us admitted to feeling exhausted and overwhelmed by
our professional obligations, and we considered what kinds of projects
might emerge out of those conditions and how to produce scholarship
not timed to the rhythms and genres of conferences, edited collections,
and books.1 In a public event at the University of Texas shortly after
the U.S. invaded Iraq, the dominant response was one of incredulity,
a seemingly low- grade or normalized version of the epistemic shock
that is said to accompany trauma. At another public ut event to dis-
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